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#WriteTip: Beta Readers

Sam av

When I first started writing, I didn’t understand what beta readers were. I’d read fan fiction and there would be a note from the author thanking their beta readers. It seemed unnecessary to me, or at least more tedious than it was worth. However, since I started taking writing more seriously, my opinion has completely changed. Beta readers are the most important part of this process. I will never again try to publish something without submitting to beta readers.

What is a Beta Reader?

Beta readers are people who read your book when you think it’s ready. You can do this before or after editing (I have seen people do it both ways). I typically do it after editing because often the beta readers get distracted by all of the typos and can’t focus fully on the story.

Beta readers are NOT editors. They may also be skilled editors, but that is not what they are doing when they read your book. They are only supposed to read your story and help you perfect the story itself.

Who Should Be a Beta Reader?

Assembling your beta reading team is up to you, but there are several things to keep in mind.

  1. You must be open to critique. Commit to making the story the best it can possibly be. It’s your baby and you owe it to your story to do what is best for the novel, not protect your ego. You may hear feedback you aren’t going to like. Someone might hate a character, or suggest you delete an entire arc of plot. They may say things that inadvertently hurt your feelings. It is important to remember that they represent your potential readers. You don’t have to accept every single thing they say, but you should at least be listening.
  2. Your book is not published yet, so choose someone you trust. A despicable human being might take your manuscript and publish it as their own. You could probably fight that and win, but it’s best to just avoid it. Even then, it may be a good idea to back up the authenticity of your work. Any timestamped material would help you with this. One way to do that is to print it and mail it to yourself. The post office timestamps the envelope.
  3. Choose people who will honestly criticize. You want people who will like your story, but you also need feedback. If everyone who reads it is just going to tell you it’s awesome (or awful) without offering any input, your book won’t be as perfect as it can be.
  4. Choose people who would like your genre. Don’t beg a hard sci-fi reader to read your romance novel. They aren’t going to enjoy it or even appreciate it properly, so they won’t give you meaningful feedback. They also won’t have a great understanding of what the story should be like, or the experience reading your genre you need them to have.
  5. Choose varying levels of readership. I have several layers of readers.
    1. The first people I submit my novel to will be the easy-to-please readers who will mostly tell me they love it. They can help me find the major flaws but not much else, and that’s fine. I know the novel is worth pursuing if it makes it past them. Family members may be good choices.
    2. The next people I submit the novel to will be people who don’t really want to hurt my feelings, but who read and write in my genre. They will help me fine tune mechanical devices and pinpoint necessary/unnecessary passages. They will critique the structure of my story as well as the plot. These are typically my closer writing friends.
    3. The last set of people I submit to will be readers/writers in my genre who are also writers and have no interest sparing my feelings. They are usually more removed friends who are incredibly picky about what they read and know exactly what to look for.
    4. Finally, after I have taken the first three beta readers into account and made necessary changes, I have a final set of readers that represent the broader fan base. Basically, I want to make sure I can please 5-10 readers and determine if the first three readers were too unique. A fluke. This is an added layer from me, as not doing this the first time led to me publishing a slightly disappointing scene in my first book.

How Many Beta Readers Do I Need?

As few or as many as you want, really. The more you ask, though, the longer you will have to wait to be finished. Reading your book might take a long time. However, if you don’t choose enough people, you might not get enough feedback.

What Should They Look For?

Beta Readers should be helping you shine up your story. Ask them to focus on muddy/unclear parts, point out what they love and what they hate, and especially flag what confuses them.

I linked this blog post on our blog, but am quoting it here:

1. At what point did you feel like “Ah, now the story has really begun!”
2. What were the points where you found yourself skimming?
3. Which setting in the book was clearest to you as you were reading it? Which do you remember the best?
4. Which character would you most like to meet and get to know?
5. What was the most suspenseful moment in the book?
6. If you had to pick one character to get rid of, who would you axe?
7. Was there a situation in the novel that reminded you of something in your own life?
8. Where did you stop reading, the first time you cracked open the manuscript? (Can show you where your first dull part is, and help you fix your pacing.)
9. What was the last book you read, before this? And what did you think of it? (This can put their comments in context in surprising ways, when you find out what their general interests are. It might surprise you.)
10. Finish this sentence: “I kept reading because…”

Lastly, thank your beta readers for their help. The work they do for you is incredibly important to the success of your novel. 

Special thanks to all of my friends and beta readers, even the ones who upset me. I try to keep my frustration to myself. Feeling angry is often just my gut reaction to the work that has to go into a story to fix it. That’s just me raging in general that I messed up, not me getting angry at anyone in particular.

Because honestly, the work that ACHILLEA needed (and still needs) to prepare it for publication was daunting and exhausting, but it is going to be worth it when it is finished, I promise!

Thanks for reading!

S.K. Balk lives in the frozen wasteland of Northern Michigan. She is the author of the dystopian medical sci-fi THE BLOOD OF NERYS (also available in print).

Check out the #WriteTip category for more writing advice and tools from Frankie and Sam!


#WriteTip: The Power of Google Docs

Sam av

If one is to write a novel, one ought to have a solid word processor. Actually, that’s not quite what this blog post is about. I’ll get to the Word Processor of the Gods another day. This blog post is about a word processor that is useful for any writer, beginners and veterans. I believe it is most useful as a word processor for beginners. Advanced writers will want something with more features. But for veterans, Google Docs has other purposes, which I’ll explain.

The major uses for Google Docs are:

  • As a beginner’s word processor
  • As a backup for your work
  • As a vehicle to transport text from anywhere to anywhere else without a flash drive
  • As a temporary word processor when you simply MUST
  • As a platform for sharing your work with writer friends

What is Google Docs?

Google Docs the word processor of Google Drive, an online cloud storage done in the spirit of Microsoft Office. Google Drive is comprised of Google Sheets (Microsoft Excel), Google Slides (Microsoft PowerPoint), Google Docs (Microsoft Word), Google Drawings, Google My Maps, and Google Forms. You can access Google Drive from anywhere that has an internet connection. There’s even a smartphone app for it.

Because Google Drive is an online cloud, you can access it from anywhere. It’s great for when you are mobile or traveling. It’s wonderful for storage of documents, pictures, movies, etc. I often use it to scan drawings or other important documents to store in folders. Recently, I’ve used Google Drive to hang onto papers for my house. I’ve also set up a budget spreadsheet for the house, saved copies of fanfics (for reasons I’ll never understand, sometimes my favorite authors simply delete my favorite stories, and I can’t abide never having the chance to read them again).

Google Docs works almost exactly like Microsoft Word, with a few minor differences most people probably won’t even notice. So. Let’s discuss how to make it work for you!

As a Beginner’s Word Processor

Most people are familiar with how to use Microsoft Word. However, purchasing Microsoft Office is expensive, and if you’re new to the Writing Thing, chances are you don’t know what the best program to purchase is yet (I’ll go into this another time, or maybe Frankie will beat me to it). Google, however, is free. You can download Google Drive right now, if you like, and because it’s easy to use, you can just start writing.

You can experiment how you want to store your files. I have folders, and folders inside of folders…The outer shell folder is called “Stories.” I then have it subcategorized into my individual projects by name (VAETHRRE, for example), a folder for backups of my fanfiction (in case something happens and the site crashes), and a folder for my fanfics in progress. Each individual project may be subcategorized further (VAETHRRE has several books, so each has its own folder). I usually name my chapters with a two digit number, a dash, and the title. This is so they are listed within the folder in order (otherwise, 10 would list itself after 1, and I don’t like that. For example: 02 – Chaos.

Google also Auto-saves constantly, so you don’t have to worry about forgetting to save and losing all of your progress (which is heartbreaking, by the way). This leads me to our next topic…

As a Backup for Your Work

You must always, always, always keep a backup file of precious words. If you are at a point in your project where you would be crushed if your file was corrupted or lost, backup your work. There are multiple ways to do this:

  1. Backup your actual computer, such as with Mac’s Time Machine
  2. Save your files to an external drive, like a flash drive or external hard drive
  3. Save a copy to online cloud storage, like Google Docs

Personally, I have NO trust at all in myself and machines, so I save my work to the internet. I could mess up the backup. I could wipe the entire computer clean. I could lose my external drives. But the data on the internet is safe from my ability to tamper with it. The worst I could do is delete it by accident.

Save backups frequently.

Usually, what I do is copy and paste my entire work into a new Doc. It will auto-save immediately. Then, I title it with the name of the project and the date. If the project is complete, I may indicate that as well.

I don’t worry about formatting so much. The entire point of this is to save the words. I can monkey around with italics if I ever need to recover the file.

As a Vehicle to Transport Text from Anywhere to Anywhere Else

The old way I used to move files and projects from one place to another, say a work computer to my file at home, was by sending it to myself in an email. However, with Google Docs, I can save the file to the cloud and pull it off when I get to where it needs to go. I’ve also found this helpful with work. Sometimes, I need photo files for projects/continuous improvement/writing discrepancies. Before I had a smartphone, I would photograph it with my laptop’s phone, upload the picture to Google Drive, and then download it on the work computer. This is also helpful with large files that don’t like being sent through email.

As a Temporary Word Processor When you Simply Must

Just how it sounds. If you have that idea that throttles your brain and won’t let go, but your precious laptop/notebook is elsewhere, get to the nearest internet connection and write it up in a Google Doc. Then, the idea will be fresh and amazing, waiting in a Doc for when you’re ready for it.

As a Platform for Sharing Your Work with Writer Friends

In my opinion, this is the greatest use for Google Docs, but only just barely nudging out using it as a backup for your work. Google Drive is the ultimate file-sharing platform. You can either send an invitation to your friend, or (and this is my favorite), set the sharing permissions to “Anyone with link can edit/comment/view.” I just drop the link off to my friends, and then they can click to see.

The moment a friend enters the document, they will show up as their logged in Google ID or as an “Anonymous [Animal],” which can be amusing. You can observe as they make their way through your document, highlight, make suggestions or changes, and leave comments. Sometimes, I’ve had entire conversations in the body of the document itself. You don’t have to send the file back and forth.

I’ve never been a fan of ‘Track Changes’ and sending Word files back and forth. However, if you enjoy Track Changes, Google Docs also has this in the form of “Suggesting,” a mode for offering your suggested edits.

Make sure you always keep a backup copy beyond this copy, though, in case someone makes an accidental change (or in case YOU make an accidental change). Google Docs autosaves. The Undo function works just fine, but not if someone else makes the error or if you catch it too late.

And of course, it’s probably good to remind you to only share your work with someone who you can trust not to steal your creative genius.

I use Scrivener for my Word Processor, which I would love to tell you about in another blog post. However, no matter how amazing Scrivener is, I actually use Google Drive for a lot more in every aspect of my life. Frankie and I share files and such through Google Drive. Sharing spreadsheets is helpful for planning out these blog posts, and sharing documents allows us to easily critique each other’s work.

I hope that helps you out! Drop us a comment or share your favorite posts with friends. As always, thank you so much for your support!

S.K. Balk lives in the frozen wasteland of Northern Michigan. She is the author of the dystopian medical sci-fi THE BLOOD OF NERYS (also available in print).


#Writetip Frankie’s Writing Process

Sorry this is a little later than usual, it’s been a helluva day!


Whether it’s chores, work, hobbies or general things in every day life, people like routine. Many writers and artists have a process which they follow every time they sit down to work. Today, I will tell you about my writing process.

My Routine consists of the following:

1) Create a Playlist

2) Plot a Map

3) Create Character Sheets and Board.

4) Place Ideas in Order

5) Create a Timeline

6) Create a First Draft

7) Review and Edit

8) Adjust Manuscript to Include New Information

9) Edit -streamline

10) Edit -smooth

11) Edit -enhance

12) Edit – review

13) Proof Draft and Editor

14) Review Edits and Amend Manuscript

15) Edit and Create Final Draft

16) Review Final Draft

17) Cover Art and Synopsis

18) Setting Up for Online Sale

This seems quite an extensive list, so I’ll go through them one at a time

1) Create a Playlist

Like many people, I enjoy writing to music. The music I listen to depends on what I am writing. Sad scenes require sad music, happy ones need upbeat tunes. But mostly, my works have their own soundtracks. I create playlists as ideas come to me, and sometimes music itself can trigger ideas. I’ve seen me standing in a shop, desperately trying to get my music-recognition app to work before a broadcasting song ends because I think it would be a good song for a particular scene. I jot down the title of songs I like and keep for future reference.

Come the time of actual writing, I gather all the music I have jotted down, create a playlist and name it after the working title. Through stages 2-6, the tunes are randomly played to help fire up my imagination. But when it comes to stages 7-12, invariably I play the same song on repeat for hours and days on end for as long as I am writing. This song is the one out of the entire playlist which suits my story the best. It is always instrumental or classical, as lyrical songs can break my concentration. Stages 13-16 are mostly music free as I like to fully concentrate without distraction. Malevolence was predominately written to Chad Lawson’s: The Chopin Variations 😀

2) Plot a Map

My map plotting consists of large bubble charts with all the characters and plot points written on it with lines connecting important parts together. I find this a great way to form a story. It is a visual representation of the ideas in my head, documented so I will not forget anything. A little like an animators storyboard, my charts allow me to visualise my story while figuring out all the little twists and turns I will take. At first they look terribly messy, but by the time I have the story straight in my head, they are ready for stages 4-5. Now that I use MindMaple, my charts are stored on my drive, but the initial mapping out is usually made in a notebook or on A2 paper.

3) Create Character Sheets and Character Board

At this stage I have a pretty good idea of who will be in my story. I write out a sheet for each character with all their information. Name, height, colour of hair and eyes, likes and dislikes, where they are from and what they do, and why they are in the story to begin with. By doing this, the character grows in my mind and I get to know them and understand them a little. Once the sheets are complete I then create a character board. If there is someone I believe is similar to a character, or if there is an actor/actress who I think could play a character, then I print out their photo and place it on a character board with a short bio underneath. This is my character visualization board. I use it to formulate ideas about the characters, and it makes them seem like real people. And yes, I also laminate the final versions and keep them 😀

4) Place Ideas in Order

At this point, everything is more or less figured out, but in a rather messy state. So now, I go through my charts and place them in order. I used to do this in a second notebook, one which I also use for jotting down all my ideas. These days, I use a spreadsheet, which is much easier and neater. Using the spreadsheet allows me to link documents to the main file, whereas my notebook is usually full of sticky notes and clipped on pieces of paper which are easily lost.

5) Create a Timeline.

By this stage, I just want to start writing things! But, in order to get the words down correctly, I need to know exactly when and where things occur in the story. I review everything I have so far then create a timeline for the story which I will then follow to the end. If I change something halfway through writing, I will update the timeline so I don’t get confused. The timeline is saved in its own document and becomes the main file for attaching chapters. Again, using it as part of a spreadsheet, allows for ease of use and input of links to chapter documents.

6) Create a First Draft

The first draft is always the worst to read, but it is also the most exciting part write. This is the time I get to really play with my characters and help them evolve into believable beings. I get to tell my story and theirs as I create an adventure purely from my mind. I don’t always write chapters sequentially. Sometimes I just want to get something important or exciting written down, and sometimes I just can not wait to write a certain part. Therefore, I might write chapter fifteen before I write chapter five. It might seem a little strange, but sometimes I just can’t help myself! By the end of this stage, no matter how long it takes, I have a pretty rough draft of my entire story.

7) Review and Edit

This is the start of the really hard work. The story itself is easy enough to write, but is it easy enough to read? There will be plot holes and missing information. Long-winded sentences and half written paragraphs. Maybe an entire paragraph would be better in a different chapter or further down the page. Maybe I forgot to add a scene which will render a future chapter useless. Perhaps I even forgot a character’s name halfway through writing. I have done this before and could not figure out who the hell Sean was until I re-read and discovered he was actually named Daniel up to chapter nine…. This is the time you will see mistakes and realise, this draft really isn’t good enough to read. This is the first of many editing sessions, but it is the one in which you get the story straight.

8) Adjust Manuscript to include new information

By the time I finish stage 7, I’ve scribbled notes on my notebook with updated information. Things like missing data, or an adjustment to the plot. If I’ve found anything wrong in the first draft, or discovered information I think is missing and should be included, this is the stage in which I make those adjustments. It is technically a re-write, but not a full change of story. All the adjustments are placed on the timeline so that as I re-write, I don’t forget anything.

9) – 12 or more…) Edit – Streamline, Smooth, Enhance.

The second edit of many, I’m afraid. Anything which does not read correctly, run smoothly or just looks wrong, should be picked up during these edits. I edit my manuscript as many times as I feel it needs until it reads smoothly. Grammatical errors, spelling mistakes, badly formed sentences, incorrect pauses and breaks. These are things I wont notice until the editing stages as–up until this time–all I’ve done is spill out all of my ideas into a story form, but not taken much care.

13) Proof draft and Editor.

If I have my story in a somewhat decent state, this is the time I will pass it to Sam for editing. I could edit and edit for a year and still miss things which Sam will see in one reading. There are times you become blind to your words and it takes a second point of view to see the mistakes and point them out. Sam is my editor, and I am hers. Together we get our manuscripts into a better state. Of course, if you go the traditional publishing route, you will be assigned an editor. If you wish to self-publish, you can hire an editor. Between Sam and I, we are quite happy with what we do together.

14) Review Edits and Amend Manuscript

Here is when I place all of Sam’s edits into my manuscript. Anything she has pointed out or suggested, will be added or deleted.

15) Edit and Create Final Draft

Once I have finished with Sam’s edits, I will then edit the manuscript again to create my final draft. When Sam has the manuscript, I take a back seat. This gives me time to forget what I’ve written in order to see it again with fresh eyes. I read the edited manuscript and often find there are corrections I wish to make, even though I have already edited it umpteen times. This is the reason editing is so important and why I do it so often. Even after Malevolence was published, as I read the pdf file for print version, there were parts I might have fixed if I had edited one last time. Perhaps if I had taken a step back for longer, I might have seen those problems before publishing. They are not terrible mistakes, but I might have worded things a little differently in places.

16) Review Final Draft

A very important stage as this should be the final edit prior to publishing. I want to make sure everything is absolutely spot on and perfect before I submit the manuscript. I take my time, read things over and over until I am sure they are right. Even though I have read the manuscript a hundred times and know it off by heart, I will read every single word to make sure I have it written to the best of my abilities. I find this the hardest stage, as all I want to do it get the story out there and on sale! As I’ve said before, I am very impatient person when it comes to my writing and art.

17) Cover Art and Synopsis

I’ve already got a good idea what I want as cover art by the time the manuscript is ready to go. I sketch it out on paper a few times before I then draw it out on my laptop as a digital illustration. For Malevolence, I wanted a clean cover. One with an eye-catching design but simple. I went through five designs before I decided on the right one. After that, I drew it all up, changed the colours and resized it until I was happy.

The synopsis for the back cover and blurb for sites was difficult for me. I’ve never been good at writing synopsis and in the end I asked Sam what she thought. We decide that we would write each other’s book synopsis and I found it easier to write one for her book than I did my own! I think the reason I have problems is because the synopsis is vital to attract readers. If it is badly written, chances are no one will look at the book.

This, is the proof copy of Malevolence in print! I only have three chapters to read before I amend the pdf and put it out for sale 😉

18) Setting Up for Online Sale.

This stage needs a full post of its own. Therefore, I will leave stage 18 until my next writing tip blog day.

F.R. Donaldson lives in scenic Scotland. She is the author of the psychological sci-fi MALEVOLENCE



Hello all! I just got back from vacation, and although I didn’t do a lot of any writing, I still have news!

P.S–for the time being the video is missing the intro/outro animation. Frankie is asleep and I am late to getting this ready. I will ask her to fix it later, but I wanted to make sure you got this video on time. ^_^

S.K. Balk lives in the frozen wasteland of Northern Michigan. She is the author of the dystopian medical sci-fi THE BLOOD OF NERYS.

I’m reading it!


#amreading #amrevising

Hello all! Sam here!

This is a rather short one, but I’m pretty caught up in my job right now and am on my way out the door.

If You Have a First Draft… What’s Next?


Sam here! 😀

We’re in the home stretch of NaNoWriMo (seven days left!). To all the writers out there, this is an exciting time. Either you’re frantically trying to catch up, frantically trying to finish, or… frantic. You’re just frantic. Maybe you just completed a draft or are about to complete a draft. And maybe it’s your FIRST DRAFT EVER. Maybe this will be your first novel. Congratulations to you!

What do you do when you finish it?!?

What you don’t do is publish it. PLEASE don’t publish that. Your word-baby needs nurture and care. In this video, I’ll talk about that.

I’m also offering my services to you as a beta/editor for free.

For free.


And no worries. I have zero interest in stealing anyone’s story. I have my own style, I write really fast, and I have a real, deep, abiding fear of breaking rules (which includes laws). Furthermore, and this is my arrogance talking, I love my own work more than I would love putting my name on someone else’s.

If you’re interested in having some help, you can email me. My email is on our profile page, but I’ll give it to you here as well: I’m going to want to talk to you a little as a human being before I go ahead and just accept your story, so please don’t just dump your manuscript in my inbox and run. Bonus: practice by sending it with a query letter and I can critique that, too. I have experience with writing them (and being rejected a lot).

Let’s fill the world with great stories and change it for the better. 🙂

OK. Onto the video.



I fixed Achillea. #amrevising

I know I’ve whined about my lost novel a lot in the past, but I don’t think I can quite convey to you just how tortured I’ve been for the story that was lost. A quick recap: My first novel was my attempt to save an abandoned fanfic brought about by my cowriter disappearing (now reappeared, 18 months later!) by scrubbing it up into a novel that was different enough from the canon as to be unrecognizable. I put a lot of work into changing up the world and the characters and adding a cast of original characters to really build my story into a place that was wholly mine.

Unfortunately, I failed. The story was excellent. The cast of original characters was ON POINT. None of my betas were disappointed and all without exception were starved for a sequel. HOWEVER, there were a couple of major, major plot devices that were canon from the fandom I’d written from and I hadn’t found a way to lose them in the original telling. I tested all of my betas on this point (because plagiarism is BAD and I didn’t want to be guilty of it) and all of them agreed it was safe from being recognizable.

And then Stella read it. And Stella disagreed. She pointed out 4 major points that would absolutely need to change and 1 point that was flawless (Heike, obviously. That bitch is fabulous).

I thought I was strong. I thought I had enough confidence and enough ability to bounce back from this like a champ. Yeah, I can fix this, I thought. But over the next few days, I was thoroughly defeated, and that feeling carried far into the spring and has never quite faded. I’ve played with ideas of how to fix Achillea, but nothing quite seemed right. As of today, that changes (see video).

So yeah. I know I’ve whined a lot, but even with all the whining I’ve done, it still isn’t enough to properly demonstrate just how destroyed I was for having lost this story. I can only blame myself, and it ruined me as a writer. The spark was gone. The confidence was broken. I simply–could–not. My art was tarnished. The ideas dried up.

October has been a blessing. I’m cured. I think I’m fully recovered now, and I’m ready for whatever the future brings.

Thank you for sticking with me, blog warrior. Your presence means so much! ❤

Creative Boom!



I’ve been quiet recently, but productive! A little update on this Dragon 🙂


Writing versus the Wrists #writerproblems


I haven’t updated in a while because my wrists will not let me.

Review for Elegy for a Dead World:

Query Circus!


Sam is in the querying stage!!! 

It’s been said that you should never really talk about your rejections. I’m breaking this rule. I promise not to be a jerk about it, but rejection is part of the process and if/when that happens, I’m going to share it with you.

I’m currently refreshing the crap out of my inbox. Agent #1 responds within 2-10 days and it’s been 3. Every time I get a fresh email I completely freak out. Pretty sure my soul drops through the universe. I feel sick and excited and nervous and doubtful and cocky as shit and… small. I feel small.

This is… crazy. I wrote a book. I edited a book. I got it beta’d. I cut more than 70,000 words from it. It’s beautiful. My readers love it. No matter what happens, guys… I already won this game. I’m so pleased. ^_^ Anyway. Enjoy the videos! Thanks for following!

Notice me, senpai.